Sometimes the mask is the most real part of who you are.
Katryna Gesait’s ‘Party Snake’ is one for the ages. A very evocative and powerful piece of theatre without needing to be too much, Gesait’s words craft worlds and construct landscapes while keeping to the simplicities. ‘Party Snake’ follows the story of a drag queen and a primary school teacher, and them coming to terms with their truths: that, although different entities in a metaphysical sense, they are one and the same. Set between her arrival home after a party and his having to leave the household to teach his drama students in the morning, this near-hour-long monologue constructs the drag queen in her lifestyle and psychology then deconstructs her again right before our very eyes as each lash, eash bangle and each bosom becomes a metaphor and then is stripped off the body like flesh, leaving the man behind the mask. In a poetic reverse-exploration of the human condition, Gesait’s beautiful, quasi-lyrical piece delves into the idea of what it means to be so self-aware as to highlight characteristic qualities and seemingly morph into someone else entirely, and the misconception that doing so is becoming disingenuous when indeed you are just becoming more yourself, in a way. Identity is truly a malleable, fluid and untameable thing.
U Mad? Productions is a mountain of platinum theatre, channeling its avalanches at a constant rate. Tackling the big themes with an often unexplored focus, lens, shutter, angle and lighting, this company lets the best be captured in a short but sure showcase; and in this piece, it would be near impossible and purely unfair to separate the direction from the performance. Melbourne-based performer Lachlan Martin struts to the stage all glitter and glamour, and not once does she stumble or stutter or lose her face (unless you count her literal wiping it off halfway through). Holding herself like the queen herself, Martin’s performance glistens with all the raw philosophies woven and threaded into drag culture; an undeniable presence with the perfect poise and posture of both a drag queen and your local drama teacher, Martin’s overnight bout of soliloquising has the audience in stitches, and not of the fashionable kind. His realness and relatability – provided further by the phenomenally authentic scripting – allows moments of shock and impact upon exploring the more vulnerable and pained side of his life, his life out of and even leading up to doing drag. With the most consistent and concise movements between pun, performance and pure heartache, Martin works Gesait’s script as if he were the drag queen herself; as if they were his script and that were his life, his words, his pains. This interwoven casting choice makes for one of the best pieces of theatre in Melbourne this year yet, as a potential frontrunner for many moons to come.
The lighting design is incredibly simple but effective, having a general wash maintain the space unobtrusively, only changing to help the music ring. Speaking of music, the sound design meets the same standard of blissful and accessible: with only a very limited number of songs playing throughout the show for a cheeky lip-synch, we see the staged drag come through our actor, giving him the cherry on top of his persona. All of these moments came together cohesively and convincingly, with the stage management pairing the elements all together to make glorious moments.
As expected with a production based solely on dressing down the drag, we get the extravagant makeup and costuming we so desperately want to see. With all the colours and shades and lines and strokes of proper artistry, it is also charming to see our lady keep her beard on, grounding her in her gender fluidity as two people in one. Her gorgeous black dress clings to her body shapefully and slimmingly, with her heels raising her immense figure even higher off the ground, creating this towering beauty on the stage with a roaring red fire as her wig. A vanity draped in a tapestry of trinkets and utensils stands glamorously to one side with a bed, chair and mannequin body to the other, creating the royal bedroom of our local queen. From beginning to end, the aesthetic of the show and its many elements proves accurate, speaks authentic, and stays alive.
As the second Gesait show I have had the privilege to see, all I can say is that her work is admirable, courageous and incredibly refreshing. With words that can lull and storm at once, ‘Party Snake’ does not fall short. In a poetic exploration of the human condition, Gesait’s beautiful, quasi-lyrical piece delves into the idea of what it means to be so self-aware as to highlight characteristic qualities and seemingly morph into someone else entirely, and the misconception that doing so is becoming disingenuous when indeed you are just becoming, in a way, ever more yourself. Identity is truly a malleable, fluid and untameable thing, and sometimes the best thing we can do is to let the parts of us we try to hide or deny flourish. Our bodies are our temples; everything we possess is a gift, and a treasure, and a beauty.